Life With Mr. Dangerous. Paul Hornschemeier. Villard Press. 160 pages. Full Color. Hardcover.
I've been reading delicious bits of Paul Hornschemeier's Life With Mr. Dangerous for years now as they were published in MOME and I was delighted to see it finally collected beautifully all in one book.
Life With Mr. Dangerous is, in essence, a story about twenty-six year old Amy, a newly single girl (again) with a cat, who works in a mall clothing store somewhere in the Midwest, not unlike her divorced mother before her. Amy's obsession with a cartoon program called Mr. Dangerous drives much of her life, too much, and she's aware of this, though unable and perhaps unwilling to escape it as she'd like.
Early on in the book, Amy breaks up with her jerk of a boyfriend and we learn that her best friend Michael has recently moved to San Francisco. Amy's clearly hung up on Michael and though she makes a few attempts to move on romantically, her attempts are colossal failures, more thanks to her attitude and behavior than the gentlemen in question, who are seemingly nice guys that mostly suffer by not being Michael.
While Life With Mr. Dangerous does not exactly break new ground, Hornschemeier brings us one of the best and most effective "lost twentysomethings" stories I've read in comics in a long time. Amy is a person very lost both in herself and within her life, and as she struggles to find meaning in any of it - direction, purpose, even love - Hornschemeier hits some very relatable and poignant notes. For the bulk of Dangerous I was wildly depressed. Things hit a little too close to home in places, as I suspect it might for a lot of people of my generation as we struggle like Amy to find meaning, purpose, love, and more often than not, energy and focus.
Visually the book is downright stunning. It's clean and clear and perfectly consistent to a level that I yearn for in more of my books. Hornschemeier's pacing is pitch perfect, allowing the story to breathe and move as slowly as Amy's life itself seems to. He uses a basic panel layout with slight variation, which is the perfect choice to layout Amy's basic life, itself full of only slight variations. The reader is treated to some of Amy's dreams and imaginations that step outside of the box a bit and are equal parts sad, bizarre, and hilarious. Hornscheimeier's storytelling is the kind of completeness one searches for in comics, a perfect merging of story and art, the kind you can usually only get when the writer and artist are one and the same. He chooses his moments wisely and the result is a poignant and beautiful book.
Amy herself is a well-considered character, realistic and full of flaws, but not unsympathetic. It would be disingenuous to ignore that part of my affection for this book is thanks to how well I personally relate to it, and to Amy. Though much of our journey in life thus far has been different, I found many similar strains, that rang home both painfully and pleasantly. But in the end it's not how relatable Dangerous is to me personally that makes this a superior work. Instead it's the care and attention to detail Hornschemeier puts into every aspect of this work. From how three-dimensionally he crafts Amy inside and out, to the thought he puts into her fictional cartoon show, to the depth and nuance he creates in the friendship between Amy and Michael. In a world full of treacly, unbelievable, unimaginative "romance" stories Hornschemeier finds a moment between Amy and Michael (through long distance no less) that rang more heartfelt and honest and worthy of changing you whole life, than any dozens of movies and books I've seen try to create the same.
Additionally, the connection between Amy and Michael, and in particular Michael's ability to reach out to Amy in a wholly unique and powerful way eventually not only inspires her to make some changes in her romantic decisions, but in her professional life, and in putting her back on track to finding her happiness in any way she can. And it ultimately spins her into a more creative and positive place in general, a place of taking risks and making sure to actually live, rather than going through the motions. Whether Amy will ultimately be happy or not, you're left in Dangerous with the feeling that at least she has learned something and grown, and what more can any of us really ask for?
Ultimately Hornschemeier gives us a positive and hopeful ending and it's a credit to him that it feels both like a relief and also not necessarily like a cheat. Amy's life is not drastically changed or in any way perfect at the end of Dangerous, but she's taken some small measures of control in her life in a variety of ways (both personal and professional) and has some revelations (both minor and major) that suggest that she's headed toward more positive things in general. It's the kind of ending that doesn't leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, but gives you some small note of hope, both for fictional Amy, and for your less fictional self.
Life With Mr. Dangerous was released May 24th, 2011 and is available in book and comic stores everywhere, as well as online.
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